By Liz Carmack, Sr. Communications Specialist
Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter
An overview of the 2020 U.S. census and how the results may impact Texas counties, including their duties during 2021 redistricting, were covered in the “2020 Census and Redistricting” breakout session at the Legislative Conference.
Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter and attorney Robert Bass of Allison, Bass & Magee, LLP co-presented the session.
Census data is used to determine how many seats each state receives in the U.S. House of Representatives and the number of votes each state has in the Electoral College. The data will also be used by Texas state officials to redraw congressional and state legislative boundaries to account for population shifts, Potter said.
This will be the first year the census is conducted online. Multiple challenges exist in collecting an accurate count of Texans, Potter said. For instance, typically undercounted populations include renters, racial/ethnic minorities, young men, children, rural, foreign-born and non-English speakers.
“It’s important to count everyone in Texas who is eligible to be counted,” Potter said. “It will affect $600-$1,200 dollars per person that the state gets based on that count. Much of those resources end up coming to the counties.”
Potter predicted the census would tally Texas’ population at more than 29 million. See the “Texas Keeps Growing” sidebar for a detailed look at Texas’ population and demographic trends presented during the session.
Bass told the group that in early 2021, counties will receive demographic data from the 2020 census for their existing political boundaries.
“Federal and state law requires all political entities with single-member districts to evaluate their existing boundaries following each federal census. And if the deviation from equally balanced districts exceeds 10%, their boundaries must be adjusted to achieve more equal population balance,” he said. “This task should be completed in time to accommodate the filing period, so a deadline of Aug. 31, 2021 is recommended.”
Bass explained that redistricting is the periodic readjustment of political boundaries (precinct lines) to accomplish precincts/wards/districts of essentially balanced populations, while at the same time avoiding an adverse effect on the voting rights of recognized minority groups.
He noted that counties should complete these steps to get ready for redistricting:
- Assemble current election precincts maps
- Identify existing polling places
- Locate incumbent residences (to keep them in their precinct)
- Gather election history for prior 10 years
- Evaluate the accuracy of maps/boundary descriptions for existing precincts
- Additional steps officials should take include:
- Develop criteria for reapportionment (of population)
- Compact and contiguous
- Well-defined, recognizable boundaries
- Preserve neighborhoods and communities of interest
- Comply with the Voting Rights Act
- Facilitate government functions such as:
- Election administration
- Road and budget balance
- Delivery of services
“I recommend that your commissioners court have a workshop to talk about goals and aspirations and build that into a (redistricting) plan so that it gives you a benchmark by which you would score subsequent plans,” Bass said. “Some counties appoint a citizens commission to do this. That commission should be representational of your community.”
Bass said that if a county decides to appoint a citizens commission to work on the project, the members should understand that they serve as advisors. “Only the commissioners court has the legal authority to adopt the plan,” he said.
Each precinct/ward/district should be as equal as possible in population, allowing for no more than 5% variation above or below the ideal population total, said Bass. He added that race cannot be the controlling factor in redistricting, but it is a significant factor. “Racial blocks within the political jurisdiction should not be grouped in such a manner as to dilute or weaken the ability of minority voters to elect a candidate of choice,” he said.